NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Final projections before draft lottery
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We're in the throes of the NBA playoffs. Spurs-Thunder is a toss-up, Stephen Curry is getting his platelets right, and LeBron's torturing the Hawks again. It's all happening. But that doesn't mean we forgot about the draft. This is just the calm before the storm.
We're 10 days out from the NBA lottery, and then draft season gets serious. There will be workouts, trade rumors, and all kinds of anonymous chirping from scouts with varying agendas. Plus, the NBA Combine begins next week. Did you see this giant spreadsheet full of participants? AJ English ... Pascal Siakam ... Cat Barber ... Zhou Qi ... It's all happening.
For now, let's take one more deep dive into the field before the lottery turns all this upside down.
Mock Draft 3.0. Here we go...
This may be the best debate at No. 1 since Oden and Durant in 2007, and it'll probably continue until June. It seemed like Ingram might turn the corner and become the consensus top pick, but scouts are still legitimately divided, and there's no clear answer here. I'm sticking with Ingram, though. Simmons's upside as a point-forward is incredibly fun to dream about, but the adjustment may take a while, and it won't be easy to fit a roster around him. Meanwhile, Ingram is a better scorer and a better defender, he played harder in college, and he's got a game that could fit any team in the NBA. He's also a year younger than Simmons, and is (unofficially) 145 pounds. There's room to grow!
If L.A. is in the top two, this becomes a massive trade chip to use for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins or any other superstar who might be able to attract Kevin Durant this summer. Simmons may not be quite good enough to unseat Ingram, but he's still one of two players in this draft with the potential to be a franchise player. He can score in transition, he'll run your offense, and his jumper will never be as hopeless as it was at LSU this past season. If a team's stuck in no-man's land building around an unhappy superstar, wouldn't it make a lot of sense to flip things upside down and start over with Simmons?
If Boston's not in the top two ... Why would they keep this pick? Durant sweepstakes or not, they are close enough to start gambling and building a contender, and Danny Ainge has an itchy trigger finger even in a normal year. If they're not in a position to draft Ingram, bet on them to trade this. As for Dragan Bender, he's third as a placeholder, because his stretch-four game would be an excellent long-term fit on almost every team in the top 10. Also, less than a year after Kristaps Porzingis embarrassed 60% of the scouts in the NBA, it's hard to imagine Bender gets further than three.
Ellenson may not rise this high in June, but the idea of a stretch-four is a powerful drug in the NBA right now. And the case for Ellenson here is as much about what Phoenix needs. The Suns have three capable guards, TJ Warren at small forward, and two centers (Alex Len, Tyson Chandler) who were awkwardly playing together by the end of the year. In other words, the Suns need a power forward, preferably one who won't throw towels at the coach and attack Archie Goodwin. This is why Dragan Bender would be a dream for them, but it's also why Ellenson makes a lot of sense as a consolation if they can't get Bender.
The biggest question for Murray is athleticism, right? Is he explosive enough to score in the NBA? That concern is real, but it should also be noted that similar concerns existed for Steph Curry, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, James Harden, and this year's breakout rookie guard, Devin Booker. If the Wolves are looking to win immediately—likely, now that Thibs is on board—they could definitely take Kris Dunn here, or maybe go for a stretch-four to play next to Towns. But if they're looking to win now, doesn't it also make sense to swing for the fences with this ride in the top five?
The Pelicans are definitely trying to win now, and Buddy Hield can help. His shooting alone would help anyone. On a team with Anthony Davis drawing a cascade of double teams to create open looks AND a team that just spent the past two years watching Tyreke Evans shoot pull-up jumpers, life with Buddy could be a dream come true.
Chriss came out of nowhere at UW to average 13 and 5 in 24 minutes per game, on 53% shooting and 35% from three. He's only been playing basketball for five years, so there's a good chance we are only scratching the surface with what he can do. He's got the size to play stretch four and turn into a long-term starter. Right next to Nikola Jokic, you say? Running free with Emannuel Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic, and Will Barton? Every time we do these mocks I remember how much I love the Nuggets.
Dunn was the most explosive athlete in college this year, he can play either guard position, and he's ready to contribute immediately. He deserves so much better than life in Sacramento. On the bright side, let's say the Kings decide to deal Boogie in the next few months, they let Rondo go elsewhere, and suddenly they're rebuilding around Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore, Dunn... Actually, you're right, that's still pretty depressing.
He's built like a tank at 6'7". He's explosive, he's got decent form on his jumper, and he should turn into a very good defender. My dream for Jaylen Brown is to have him spend two years of boot camp with Draymond Green. Lifting, rebounding, waking up to Draymond telling him he's trash, etc. He's an underwhelming wing prospect who could be transformed into a weapon of mass destruction if he took a few years to add weight and embrace life as an undersized stretch four. That dream is probably unrealistic, but even as a pure wing, he has enough to potential to make sense as a long-term DeMar Derozan replacement if he drops to the Raptors.
It would be more entertaining for them to gamble on Timothe Luwawu, the mysterious French shooting guard with endless length. Grabbing Denzel Valentine to play next to Khris Middleton would be a safe pick that's also a bold investment in the future with Point Giannis. But Poeltl gives them a center that can start for the next 10 years. He's athletic and skilled, and he solves the rim protection issues that emerged after swapping Zaza Pachulia for Greg Monroe. Is this a boring and conventional pick? Maybe. But for a team that's starting a 6'11 point guard next year, convention is relative.
Don't think of Deyonta Davis as a player from Michigan State who you definitely don't remember watching last season. He's not the player who averaged 7.5 points in 18 minutes, and probably should have gone back to school. No... Deyonta Davis is an idea. Rim protection, athleticism, upside, carefully chosen highlights to get you excited. Deyonta Davis is not the player you forgot, Deyonta Davis is the NBA draft you've always loved.
So far in our Mock Draft series we have discovered the Furkan Korkmaz Darth Vader Dunk Contest, and then a YouTube wormhole full of remixes by a Turkish DJ named Furkan Korkmaz ... Now we're on Instagram. Let's watch Furkan do the Ice Bucket Challenge. Look at him doing this interview for CNN Turkey. Draft this man. He's an athletic guard with skills to score from the perimeter. He'll be great off the bench, in dunk contests, in life.
Valentine could vault into the top 10 by the time we do this in June. Over four years at Michigan State he turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter and one of the best defenders in college basketball. He can pass, he can rebound, he's a winner. This draft is full of guys who could conceivably, theoretically turn into stars. Valentine's future as a valuable rotation player on a good team feels more certain than almost all of them.
The Bulls need a rim protector, but if Davis and Poeltl are off the board, they might as well swing for the fences with Luwawu. He's a 3-and-D candidate with a higher upside than someone like Valentine, and at 6'7 with a 6'11" wingspan, he's got all the size you could ever want from a swingman. His team in Serbia wore magenta jerseys, and I know this because I watched this dunk and/or act of war on some poor team from Zagreb. Look at the fans in that clip. 14 might be too low for Luwawu.
Tyler Ullis running with Emmanuel Mudiay in the backcourt, with Gallianari bombing threes and Jokic and Nurkic taking turns destroying people up front. Let's all move to Denver.
What's truly unfair about the Celtics picks is that they may be able to a) trade their first-round pick, b) use their first-round pick on a lottery talent who doesn't have to contribute right away, and c) use their first-round pick to draft-and-stash a European prospect for three years down the road, because they don't have the room to add any other young players. This is how life works when you have 28 different first-round picks over three years. Now, we're going to speed things up for the final half of this mock ...
Murray is a project as a point guard, but with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol coming back from injuries, the Grizzlies can afford to bet big here and invest in the future.
Sabonis is skilled and works incredibly hard, and he's in the Denzel Valentine category of "guys who will go too low but should definitely help on a good team." In Detroit, he could turn into the player that Donatas Motiejunas was supposed to be, right before that voided trade became the 85th worst part of this Rockets season.
Prince is a 3-and-D prospect who will take some development, but in a league where Kent Bazemore is about to make $10 million a year, he could turn into a steal on a smart team. Also, as noted in Mock 2.0, he's giving off strong Gerald Wallace vibes at all times. (Seriously, I'm looking for apartments in Denver.)
Baldwin may impress people at the NBA draft combine and vault into the top half of the draft. He was inconsistent at Vandy, but physically, he's probably the most impressive combo guard in the draft. As an understudy to George Hill, he could perfect for the Pacers.
Even if Al Horford stays in Atlanta, at some point it will make sense to groom a long-term replacement in the middle. Jones was as inconsistent as Baldwin at Vandy, but he's physically impressive, and after watching the Hawks turn Tim Hardaway and Mike Scott into valuable role players, I'm convinced their coaches can do anything.
He was great for Notre Dame and he could go 10 spots higher than this come June, but as a high-energy combo guard, he feels less like a starter of the future and more like a great first guard off the bench. In that case, Charlotte could grab him as insurance in case Jeremy Lin gets too expensive.
He didn't have a buyout in his deal in the Adriatic League until negotiating one three weeks ago, but at just 19 years old, this could still make sense as a draft-and-stash. Is Ante Zizic good? We will probably find out in 24 months!
DeAndre Bembry has the best afro in the draft, and he had one of the best all-around games in the country last year (17.5 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists). He makes sense for a Philly team that's been trotting out overwhelmed wings for three years straight, and if he doesn't go here, I'd be shocked if he doesn't end up on the Spurs.
Brice Johnson is a strangely divisive prospect considering how overwhelmingly productive he was at Carolina last year. Scouts question his maturity, athleticism, length... Maybe some of that's fair, but as a third big man for the Clips, he makes a lot of sense.
Did you know that the Sixers drafted Guillermo "Willy" Hernangomez with the 35th pick last year? That's Juan's brother, and three years of tanking was all leading to this. The Herangomez brothers are back together and ready to conquer basketball. (Correction: The Sixers traded that pick to the Knicks. This only means that Phil Jackson needs to trade into the first round here. The Herangomez brothers take Manhattan!)
The first highlight video that pops up when you search for Stephen Zimmerman is "Full Highlights 12.04.2015 vs. Oregon -12 Pts, 12 Rebs, 4 Blocks!" And honestly, that's probably all you need to know. He's still very young though, and as a long-term project, he makes sense for a good team.
Maker doesn't have first round talent, but the idea of him—crazy combination of size and skill, internet urban legend, high schooler who found a loophole into the draft—may be enough to sell some team on investing four years to see what he could become. And with three first round picks, the Suns can afford to get weird.
He's excellent on defense, and he played in an intricate offense predicated on ball movement. He's basically a Spur already. His biggest weakness is three-point shooting (39% as a senior), which the Spurs will fix in their laboratory.